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April 11, 2012

Health ranking dismal for McCreary County

Ranked 117 for overall health factors

FRANKFORT —  The 3rd annual County Health Rankings were released last Tuesday by the University of Wisconsin in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and McCreary County continues to rank among the unhealthiest in the state.

    The county is not alone, the rankings show, as the least healthy Kentuckians tend to live in the Appalachian swath of the state. Counties which surround the urban centers of Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati have the highest rankings. Those numbers reflect a nationwide pattern in which the least health counties are often rural, sparsely populated areas, according to Dr. Patrick Remington, lead researcher and associate dean for public health at UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health.

    “At the other end, you see urban centers as having similar problems and often ranking at the bottom of the list,” Dr. Remington said. “Another patters is some of the suburban communities…are some of the healthiest communities.”

    More than 3,000 counties and the District of Columbia were ranked in two ways: health outcomes (such as premature death rates, low birthweight, how good or bad people feel physically and mentally) and health factors (smoking, obesity, binge-drinking, etc.). Kentucky’s counties are ranked from 1 to 120, though the rankings don’t represent statistically significant differences due to the small sample sizes in several.

    McCreary County ranked 94 in health outcomes, with 43 percent of the local population reporting “[p]oor or fair health.” In terms of health factors, the county ranked 117 — just three slots shy of dead last. Among the contributing factors are:

    • 38 percent of McCreary adults smoke, as opposed to the Kentucky average of 27 percent.

    • 32 percent of McCreary adults are obese, a little better than the 33 percent Kentucky average.

    • 22 percent of McCrearians are not insured, as opposed to 17 percent across Kentucky.

    • 49 percent of McCreary children live in poverty, as opposed to 26 percent across Kentucky.

    Neighboring Pulaski County ranked 48 in health outcomes and 38 in health factors. Wayne County ranked 76 and 94, respectively, while Whitley County ranked 95 and 74. Scott County was ranked 57 and 90, respectively, out of 95 Tennessee counties.

    Dr. Remington noted that the rankings are “not really intended to be a race to the top” but instead should be used as a “Polaroid snapshot of community health” which officials can use to pinpoint problem areas and make policy changes.

    “Much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office,” foundation President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said.

    Factors like education rates, income levels and access to healthy food all play a part, researchers found. Data also show where someone lives can influence health. For example, excessive drinking (11 percent in McCreary County) is highest in northern states. Rates of teen births (74 locally), sexually transmitted infections (248 locally) and children living in poverty are highest in the South.

    Terry Brooks, Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, stated that KYA is working with the Roadmaps to Community Health initiative to reduce poverty among Kentucky families. The project aims to adopt a refundable state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to make the state-level Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) refundable in Kentucky.

    “The Kentucky General Assembly failed to act on the credits this legislative session,” Brooks said, “but we believe these credits might just be one way to lift Kentucky families out of poverty and improve their health.”

    The rankings are based on several sources of data, from vital statistics to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone health survey).

    “We found even though the data are available nationally, it requires a lot of time and effort,” Remington said. “This is one-stop shopping, not just for death and disease rates but for all of the factors that lead to a healthy community. Combining them allows people to start the conversation pretty easily.”

    Susan Zepeda, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky CEO, added, “Local health data can spur communities to action to create better health outcomes for all Kentuckians.”

    The report has been published online at www.countyhealthrankings.org, which has received more than 1 million visits since the site’s launch in 2010.

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